Stories of colonialism give a broader context to Indigenous deaths in residential schools

A truck drives past a sign marking the Trail of Tears on US Highway 41 in Tennessee in 2010. (Wikimedia Commons / Chris Light)

Hundreds and hundreds of anonymous graves have been found in former Native Catholic residential schools in Canada. And many of us, American and Canadian Catholics, hope to see Pope Francis apologize for it soon.

When I first read this disheartening news, it also reminded me of a related and broader discussion I encountered during my recent reading regarding “Colonial Colonialism”.

I guess we all know what colonialism is: control by one people or power over other people or regions, the establishment of colonies. This was generally done for the purpose of economic domination, achieved on a large scale by European empires since the 15th century. And more recently, we have heard of “postcolonialism”: how colonized nations have expelled their colonizers since World War II.

But what is “settler colonialism”?

I started asking this question after the term appeared in Aviva Chomsky’s book The forgotten history of Central America and Ten myths about Israel by Israeli Jewish scholar and dissident Ilan Pappe.

Cover of "The forgotten history of Central America"

The Forgotten History of Central America: Revolution, Violence and the Roots of Migration

By Aviva Chomsky

304 pages; Beacon press

$ 26.95

In his detailed examination of the roots of the current migration crisis on the southern border of the United States, Chomsky distinguishes between colonialism per se and colonialism of “settlers”. The Spanish colonizers of the Americas, who predated the English, encountered densely populated indigenous empires in Central America. The Spaniards focused on dominating these empires because they had well-developed systems for extracting resources and labor, although the Spanish and the native imperial powers themselves often enslaved the poorest indigenous peoples to extract these resources.

The English colonizers, however, encountered much smaller populations in the north, already decimated by European diseases, and so dispersed that they were more difficult to control. Rather than rule the people they colonized, the English then set out to eliminate them and replace them with a white European population. Hence the expulsion of the natives from their lands, the massacres of tribes and the subsequent efforts to force the total assimilation of the indigenous peoples through mission schools and the elimination of indigenous languages. Even today, massive poverty on tribal lands implicitly pursues this policy of extermination.

In his 2016 book, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of the Race, Australian historian Patrick Wolfe discusses the racial implications of this distinction between colonialism and settler colonialism. The role that settler colonialism assigned to indigenous peoples, Wolfe argues, is to disappear. In contrast, black Americans were colonized primarily for their work rather than their land and therefore did not need to “disappear,” at least as long as slavery persisted.

And unlike Indians, black Americans have not been systematically stereotyped as a dying race. Such a racial distinction works to justify different types of expropriation, labor in one case, and land in another. With this expropriation in mind, the ruling whites have targeted native blood for absorption – assimilation – into the white stock, but sharply distinguished people who have “a drop” of black blood from whites.

Ilan Pappé Ten myths about Israel explores the practice of settler colonialism in Israel. Pappe strongly opposes Israeli Jewish Zionism and right-wing Israeli policies. He is also an Israeli Jew, with a doctorate in history from Oxford and author of several books on the history of Israel and Palestine.

Cover of "Ten myths about Israel"

Ten myths about Israel

By Ilan Pappé

192 pages; Books Back

$ 17.95

Pappe traces the roots of settler colonialism to the German Protestant Pietists, who believed that their settlement in Palestine would precipitate the Second Coming of Jesus. They established a colony in Haifa in 1866 and remained there until the new Jewish state expelled them in 1948. The first Jewish settlers imitated their methods, settling mainly in Palestinian cities.

Then, in 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration, pledging full support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. They did so at least in part because they were convinced that after occupying the territory, a Jewish state would advance their strategic interests more than a Palestinian state.

Pappe details the differences between classical colonialism and settler colonialism. Colonizing settlers almost always split from the empire that sent them – like the English to North America – and established themselves as a “liberated nation”. The problem with this is that the homeland they claim was already inhabited by other people who therefore had to be wiped out.

To justify this, the settlers invoked “the logic of elimination” to rationalize genocide, ethnic cleansing or denial of human rights. And at the base, a “logic of dehumanization”: Savages had to be made invisible.

As a result of these logics, entire civilizations were suppressed by colonialist settlement movements, in Israel, but also in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

And that includes the United States, a nation that has embarked on one of the largest colonialisms in history. While the importation of smallpox and other diseases by subsequent Spanish and English colonizers likely wiped out more indigenous populations in the Americas than any subsequent political action, the actions of the English colonists only added to the massive decline. Population.

Long before the tea tax, George Washington sent men to take over land west of the Appalachians. He did so in defiance of King George III, who had allotted this territory to the native tribes for having fought with the British in the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

Under President James Monroe, the United States had driven Native Americans out of all states north of the Ohio River.

And in 1830, President Andrew Jackson convinced Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act, forcing all Indigenous peoples to leave what was then the United States and settle in the territory west of the Mississippi. . About 4,000 Cherokees alone died in this forced march, aptly called the “Trail of Tears”. And the victory of the United States in the American-Mexican War in 1848 allowed the United States government to push Native Americans to smaller and smaller reservations on former Mexican territory.

In 1492, 10 million Indigenous people lived in what is now the United States. In 1900, the number was less than 300,000.

At a time when statues of Confederate generals and slave owners are regularly toppled, the founder of settlement colonialism in the United States, George Washington, perhaps deserves the same treatment. Or maybe the nation’s capital should be renamed after the native chief of the tribe in whose territory the U.S. capital now sits. And in response to Joe Biden mentioning the “Armenian Genocide,” perhaps Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should say, “Well, what about the Native American Genocide?”

We Catholics in the United States and Canada alike have much to repent of the deaths of Indigenous children in Catholic residential schools. But citizens across the United States and in many other once-Imperial colonial nations have as much or more reason to repent.

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